Gravity Book Summary - Gravity Book explained in key points
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Gravity summary

Nicholas Mee

From Falling Apples to Supermassive Black Holes

4.3 (32 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Gravity by Nicholas Mee explains the fascinating science behind one of the most fundamental forces in the universe. It explores the history of gravity and its role in shaping our understanding of the cosmos.

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    Ours stars as ourselves

    For well over a millennium, European astronomers struggled to explain the motions of planets based on the dogma that celestial bodies must follow perfectly uniform circular paths. This idea had originated with Aristotle's metaphysical models envisaging the heavens as the embodiment of unchanging perfection. 

    In the second century, Claudius Ptolemy took this idea and devised an elaborate cosmological framework centered on nested crystalline spheres, which enabled reasonably accurate predictions despite its shaky physical underpinnings. In the geocentric, or Earth-centered, models of the universe developed by Ptolemy and other ancient astronomers, epicycles were theoretical circular motions superimposed on the main circular orbits of the planets and other celestial bodies. The premise was that planets orbited the Earth in perfect circular paths.

    But observational data showed their movements weren’t so straightforward; sometimes planets exhibited a retrograde motion, seeming to loop backward. To maintain the idea of perfect circular orbits, Ptolemy explained retrograde paths using the idea of epicycles – or smaller circular motions on top of the main orbit. As a planet moved through its epicycle, its overall motion could sometimes appear retrograde from Earth's perspective. Epicycles enabled Ptolemy to predict planetary positions while preserving the ideal of circular motion. But this increasing complexity exposed the flaws in the underlying model. As astronomical observations became increasingly precise in the late medieval period, the circular orbit theory began accruing discrepancies from frustrated astronomers.

    It was in this context, in the late sixteenth century, that the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe fundamentally transformed the state of observational astronomy. Meticulously recording the positions of celestial bodies night after night for decades, Brahe amassed a treasure trove of planetary data that was unprecedented in its accuracy and completeness. His comprehensive star catalog alone contained over 700 entries – a quantum leap over previous maps.

    Brahe built finely calibrated instruments and upheld rigorous standards to compile his observational database. But he still understood it in terms of intricate planetary spheres. It was his German assistant, Johannes Kepler, who inherited Brahe’s data and put it to revolutionary use. Kepler’s genius was using this wealth of high-precision measurements to discern the real mathematical patterns governing planetary motion.

    In a breakthrough that overthrew centuries of doctrine, Kepler discovered that planets do not orbit in circles, but rather in ellipses with the Sun at one focus. He also found orbital velocities vary at different points in the orbit. Kepler laid out his three laws of planetary motion, describing celestial orbits and trajectories with unparalleled accuracy.

    Kepler’s empirically derived formulas soon replaced complex models contrived to maintain the circular orbit dogma. By doing so, Kepler and Brahe moved astronomy forward from mystical models to a more scientific footing grounded in measurement and analysis. Of course, Kepler still communicated his findings using metaphysical terms like “animating spirits” to avoid critique as a heretic. But his breakthroughs demonstrated the power of using detailed data to unravel nature’s patterns – a landmark instance of theory guided by evidence as opposed to evidence guided by theory.

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    What is Gravity about?

    Gravity (2014) brings to life the history of human thought on one of the universe’s most fundamental forces. By guiding us through experiments, conundrums, and breakthroughs that changed science forever, it demonstrates how everything from galaxies to tides are formed and connected through this fascinating force.

    Gravity Review

    Gravity (2017) by Nicholas Mee explores the fascinating concepts and theories behind gravity and its impact on the universe. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its clear explanations and relatable examples, it makes complex scientific ideas accessible to readers of all backgrounds.
    • Combining historical context, groundbreaking discoveries, and thought-provoking insights, the book captivates and engages the reader from start to finish.
    • Through its exploration of the mysteries of the universe, Gravity sparks a sense of wonder and curiosity, leaving readers inspired to learn more about the cosmos and our place within it.

    Who should read Gravity?

    • Those with an innate curiosity about the natural world
    • Science fans craving stories about scientific advancement 
    • Anyone wanting to know more about the forces that govern our universe

    About the Author

    Nicolas Mee has a PhD in theoretical particle physics from the University of Cambridge. He is the director of software company Virtual Image and author of over 50 multimedia titles. He has also written several books on science, including Higgs Force, Celestial Tapestry, and The Cosmic Mystery Tour

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    Gravity FAQs 

    What is the main message of Gravity?

    The main message of Gravity is an exploration of the force that shapes our universe and binds us to the Earth.

    How long does it take to read Gravity?

    The reading time for Gravity varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Gravity a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Gravity is a fascinating read, providing insights into the mysteries of the universe. It's definitely worth exploring!

    Who is the author of Gravity?

    Nicholas Mee is the author of Gravity.

    What to read after Gravity?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Gravity, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
    • The Power of Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstrong
    • Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli
    • Social Justice Fallacies by Thomas Sowell
    • Wired for Intimacy by William M. Struthers
    • When the Heavens Went on Sale by Ashlee Vance